Highland Hellcat

By: Mary Wine

Dedication


To dreams and those who continue to listen to you when you dream out loud.





One


“Come, my beauty, we shall see if we can impress anyone tonight with our skill.”

Brina patted the mare on the side of the neck, and the animal gave a toss of its silken mane. She smothered a laugh before it betrayed to those around just how much she was looking forward to riding out of her father’s castle. She gained the back of the mare, and the animal let out a louder sound of excitement. Brina clasped the animal with her thighs and leaned low over its neck.

“I agree, my beauty. Standing still is very boring.”

Brina kept her voice low and gave the mare its freedom. The animal made a path toward the gate, gaining speed rapidly.

Brina allowed her laughter to escape just as she and the mare crossed beneath the heavy iron gate that was still raised.

“Don’t be out too long… Dusk is nearly fallen…” the Chattan retainer set to guarding the main entrance to Chattan Castle called after her, but Brina did not even turn her head to acknowledge the man.

Being promised to the church did have some advantages after all. Her undyed robe fluttered out behind her because the garment was simple and lacked any details that might flatter her figure. There were only two small tapes that buttoned toward the back of it in order to keep the fabric from being too cumbersome.

“Faster…”

The mare seemed to understand her and took to the rocky terrain with eagerness. The wind was crisp, almost too chilly for the autumn. Brina leaned down low and smiled as she moved in unison with the horse. The light was rapidly fading, but the approaching night didn’t cause her a bit of worry.

She was a bride of Christ, the simple gown that she wore more powerful even than the fact that her father was laird of the Chattan. No one would trifle with her, even after day faded into night.

But that security came with a price, just as all things in life did. She straightened up as the mare neared the thicket, and she spied her father’s man waiting on her.

Bran had served as a retainer for many years, and he was old enough to be her sire. He frowned at her as she slid from the back of the mare.

“Ye ride too fast.”

Brina rubbed the neck of the horse for a moment, biting back the first words that came to her lips.

“What does it matter, Bran? I am promised to the church, not betrothed like my sisters. No one cares if I ride astride.”

If she had been born first or second to Robert Chattan, there would be many who argued against her riding astride, because most midwives agreed that doing so would make a woman barren.

Bran grunted. “It’s the speed that ye ride with that most would consider too spirited for a future nun.”

Brina failed to mask her smile. “But I shall be a Highland nun, not one of those English ones who are frightened of their own shadows.”

Her father’s retainer grinned. “Aye, ye are that all right, and I pity those who forget it once ye are at the abbey and training to become the mother superior.”

Bran turned and made his way into the thicket. Brina followed him while reaching around to pull her small bow over her head. The wood felt familiar in her grip. It was a satisfying feeling, one for which she might thank her impending future as well. Her sisters had not been taught to use any weapons. They were both promised to powerful men, and the skills of hunting would be something that those Highlanders might find offensive to their pride.

She snorted. Going to the church suited her well indeed, for she had no stomach for the nature of men. She could use the bow as well as any of them.

“At least I know that ye will nae go hungry.” Bran studied the way she held the bow, and nodded with approval. “Those other nuns will likely follow ye even more devoutly because ye can put supper on the table along with saying yer prayers.”

“I plan to do much more than pray.”

Bran frowned and turned his attention to finding a good spot to hunt from. The burly retainer didn’t believe her.

That thought sobered her. She would have to leave soon, because the seasons were changing and the church was beginning to pressure her father for her. She didn’t dread departing, beyond that it would be hard to leave her sisters, but she did detest the attitude from those around her that she was going to the abbey to do nothing but kneel in submission. Bran was correct about one thing, she would not be a mother superior who allowed the men who came to her church to act like savages the moment they received their absolution.

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